MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

December 30, 2012

Pledger gets hot as OU men top Ohio 74-63


Associated Press

— NORMAN – A little adjustment at halftime made a big difference for Steven Pledger, and for his Oklahoma teammates, too.

Pledger made a slight change to the release on his shot and scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half, and the Sooners connected at a 71 percent clip after halftime to pull away from Ohio for a 74-63 victory on Saturday night.

“All my shots were just dying on the rim, just like I want them to. But they just weren’t going in,” said Pledger, who was 6 for 8 in the second half after missing seven of his first eight attempts. I made the adjustment at halftime to get my fingers on the ball a little bit more and everything started dropping.”

Amath M’Baye and Romero Osby added 16 points apiece for the Sooners (8-3), and Cameron Clark had back-to-back dunks in transition to spark a 15-2 run that put the game away after Ohio had cut an 11-point deficit down to four.

Pledger followed with a fall-away jumper and a 3-pointer from the right wing, and the lead eventually got as big as 71-54.

The streaky Sooners went 17 for 24 from the field in the second half, making 10 in a row then missing their next four before connecting on six straight again. They had been shooting 41 percent on the season and the second half was their most accurate period of the season.

“When you make shots, everything’s going to seem better. But it was. I thought we had better movement, I thought we came off of picks a little bit crisper and sharper and jumped into shots with good rhythm,” coach Lon Kruger said. “And then, of course, some transition opportunities help the percentage, too.”

Kruger called the second half “as good as we’ve had all year on both ends of the floor.”

D.J. Cooper had 14 points and seven assists to lead the Bobcats (8-5), who matched their season-worst with 18 turnovers and went 8 for 26 from 3-point range. Reggie Keely scored 13 points and Walter Offutt chipped in 11 points.

“We just allowed them go on a run. We just broke down, defensively especially,” Ohio coach Jim Christian said. “One-on-one defense, we didn’t chase Pledger on three straight possessions. You can’t afford to let him get going like that.”

Oklahoma bounced back from a loss to Stephen F. Austin and kept from dropping two straight non-conference home games for the first time since November 1997. The Sooners had won 36 straight nonconference games at the Lloyd Noble Center, and 94 of 96, before the rare defeat.

Ohio has lost five of its last seven games and fell to 0-4 on the road. Turnovers have been a common thread, with at least 17 committed in four of the five losses.

The Bobcats returned their top nine contributors from last season when they won a school-record 29 games and made the program’s first trip to the NCAA tournament’s round of 16 under the current format before losing to top-seeded North Carolina. But they have yet to find their footing under Christian, who was brought in from TCU after John Groce left to become Illinois’ coach.

“It’s hard. When you have success, I think sometimes you kind of take your eye off what you did and we’re not playing very soundly, especially on the defensive end of the floor,” Christian said.

“I think that’s hard for me because I don’t have a history with these guys to go back to certain points. So, I’ve got to depend a lot on their leadership and their experiences. We’ve just got to keep working our way through it. We’ve just got to find a way.”

The Sooners never trailed again after breaking a halftime tie by going on a 12-3 run to start the second half, getting easy points off of missed 3-pointers and turnovers. M’Baye had a steal and a fast-break layup and then another lay-up off a lob during the stretch, pushing the lead to 41-32 with 14:56 remaining.

Pledger then hit four straight shots, including his first 3-pointer in his last 12 attempts, to keep the Bobcats at bay. Freshman Buddy Hield, who made his first career start, followed with a steal for a transition layup and M’Baye banked in a spinning right-hander for a 54-43 edge.

Pledger started the game 1 for 7 before finding his stroke in the second half. He missed his first five 3-pointers after going 0 for 6 from behind the arc in Oklahoma’s 56-55 loss to Stephen F. Austin.

“It started with Pledger in the second half, making shots early and it picked everyone else up and everyone responded in a good way,” Kruger said.

Oklahoma capitalized on the Bobcats’ turnovers for 22 points and shot 23 free throws compared to seven for Ohio.

“For stretches we play really well and for stretches we lost it on the break – just simple basketball plays that we’re not making,” Christian said. “We’re not valuing possessions.”